When Royston Drenthe answers the phone he’s on his way to a photoshoot in Amsterdam. It’s for an underwear company, and will feature several former footballers. “I don’t even have a six-pack but they still want me,” he laughs.
The former Feyenoord, Real Madrid and Everton winger has always been willing to try new things. For such a colourful character, who has explored interests in music, fashion, perfume and poker, nothing should come as a surprise.
At 32, Drenthe is playing for Kozakken Boys in the third tier of Dutch football. He was once perhaps the most sought-after prospect in Europe, if not the world, but his career didn’t quite go to plan up until his brief retirement at the age of 29.
“The two years that I stopped I needed something new,” says Drenthe. “I just had to step out for a bit to find myself again.”
In the summer of 2007, Drenthe was hailed as the Netherlands’ next superstar having led his country to success in the European Under-21s Championship, as well as claiming the award for the tournament’s best player.
Legendary figures like Luis Figo, Andrea Pirlo and Fabio Cannavaro had previously won the same award.
“It was an amazing feeling. At that European Championships everything was going well and when clubs start asking for you it’s like a dream come true. I had to make a decision about what I wanted to do.
“There were big clubs like Chelsea, Manchester United and Barcelona. It wasn’t an easy decision to make but I chose Real Madrid because my step-dad was always a big fan of them.”
Drenthe was just 20, with one full season in senior football behind him, when he moved to arguably the world’s most glamorous and successful club for 14m euros.
“You have to take some chances straight away. A lot of people would say, ‘it was way too early for him. Why did he leave Feyenoord?’ That’s football. You make decisions to succeed but sometimes they don’t go how you want,” he says.
“I felt at home straight away because the players were very nice to me and they helped me. They were big stars but they treated me like a normal boy.”
Drenthe tended towards the spectacular. He scored with a thumping long-range strike on his debut and featured regularly in his first season, initially keeping Marcelo out of the team. He won the title under Bernd Schuster but fell out of favour under subsequent managers, including Jose Mourinho.
At a notoriously demanding club, whose supporters had the very highest expectations, Drenthe sometimes came up short. The pressure induced anxiety.
“I was a young lad who came to a big club, playing in front of 90,000 people every home game,” he explains.
“There came a moment where I had a problem but the people around me talked to me and helped to point me in the right direction.”
Loaned out to Hercules after a difficult third season in Madrid, progress on the pitch was accompanied by strife and uncertainty off it.
“It was very good but also very bad. I had a great time there but it was a bad time for the club. They weren’t paying salaries and that kind of stuff,” he says.
“At that moment it wasn’t easy. I was like, ‘If they don’t pay salaries, I’m not coming into training’.”
Drenthe went on strike, and found himself a target for the supporters’ frustration as a result.
“Sometimes things happen and I got punished for the things that I did. It’s like seven years ago now. Some of the wild things that I did, I don’t even know that I did them.
“I always focused on football. You guys think that I didn’t but I always did. Some people see things and read things so they get their own opinion. But they don’t know me as a person. It doesn’t bother me.”
Drenthe had a reputation as a playboy and party animal throughout his career. Rightly or wrongly, the public perception has endured even as his priorities have changed. It certainly doesn’t tally with how he sees himself now.
“I like to help people. I’m open. I’m a family man. I’m just Royston, you know? I go with the flow.”
After leaving Real Madrid when his contract expired, Drenthe spent a few months in Russia at Alania Vladikavkaz before returning to England with Reading and then Sheffield Wednesday, before spells in Turkey and the UAE.
After more issues with agents and unpaid wages Drenthe, disillusioned, retired in 2016, just nine years on from Europe’s biggest clubs clamouring to sign him.
“I was making music but it’s difficult to say that I was focused on one thing. I was busy with lots of different things,” he says.
“I’ve always liked music. When I’m happy I listen to music and when I’m sad I listen to music as well. It always gives me a good feeling.”
Aside from rapping as Roya2Faces, there was also a record company, a clothes shop, a perfume store and his six children to keep him busy.
Then last summer he received an offer from his former mentor, Henk Fraser, the manager of Sparta Rotterdam, to give football another go.
And now Drenthe’s playing alongside his cousin with Kozakken Boys in the Dutch third tier in front of crowds of at most a couple of thousand. It’s not the Bernabeu but he’s glad to still be playing.
For casual observers, bewitched by his skills as a youngster, there will always be a lingering sense of what might have been, but Drenthe himself doesn’t share it.
“No regrets at all. Everything happens for a reason,” he says. “I don’t regret anything because I’m happy with where I am and I’m happy with where I’ve been. I’m living my life at the moment.”